Moneyball didn’t lead to a paradigm shift for my students, but it did for me. I have not thought about my own work in the same way since reading it. How do we determine what counts as excellence in teaching? I wish I could be evaluated according to the nice things students write about me in my yearbook, but something tells me that isn’t a sound approach. In financial terms, my employer considers my work a little more valuable every year I choose to stick around. And when I earned an additional graduate degree a few years back I got a substantial raise. But I can assure you that my graduate work did not translate into student performance that was worth several thousand more dollars per year to my school system.
The direction we’re moving in, of course, is evaluating teacher performance according to student test scores. Now I’ve never been a knee-jerk opponent of standardized tests. When I’m charged with proctoring them and examine their contents, I rarely see anything that I would not want my own children to know or be able to do at that age. That said, a good standardized test score should be a side effect of a rich education, not the point of the education. Almost anyone who is in a public school classroom today would agree that tests are becoming the point. If our teaching performance were to be evaluated according to our students’ test scores, tests would become the point once and for all.
And yet my inner Billy Beane asks, “Given that the tests are far from perfect and given that you have limited control over student performance, aren’t students supposed to learn knowledge and skills in your classroom? Is there a better statistic to evaluate your performance by than your students’ test scores?” Not really.